Brussels and Washington have recently reached an agreement on a data protection deal that will allow Europeans to sue over improper use of their personal information in the United States. EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova made the announcement, saying that from now on firm rules will be in place over distributing data to third countries or holding on to information for an inordinately long time. The agreement, covering personal information transferred for law enforcement purposes, follows four years of talks over the so-called “umbrella agreement” that would protect personal data exchanged between police and judicial authorities in the course of investigations, as well as between companies and law enforcement authorities.
The talks have been bedevilled by European concerns about revelations of large-scale US spying carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA). This issue is a key concern to Europeans where a history of fascist surveillance and dictatorships exists. These concerns were heightened in 2013 when Edward Snowden released evidence of large scale operation of US spying on parties all around the world. The deal also helps pave the way for EU plans to collect EU air passenger data, a measure sought by the United States after years of wrangling over how to protect personal information while fighting terrorism and serious crime. The deal however must be approved by the US Congress before it can take effect.
The European Commission has said the agreement cannot be signed and formally concluded until the “right to judicial redress” for EU citizens is enshrined in U.S. law. Once in place, Europeans will be able to seek redress in US courts if personal data from their home countries is given to American agencies for law enforcement purposes - to control air travel to the US, for example - and then subsequently disclosed for some other reason or to a third party. The agreement paves the way to re-building trust between the EU and US and re-establishes data flows between the 2 continents. This deal will hopefully restore balance for personal privacy in Europe. The deal has been met with large amount of criticism from the US. It will be interesting to see how the deal is debated by US Congress and what the first case brought against the US by a European will look like.